Davenporters of Note: Norma M. Wiese

Once upon the 1880s, in a beautiful brick Italian Villa at 709 Brown Street, lived William and Minnie Wiese, who were known for their love of travel, music, and community.   Their daughter Edna was born in 1887 with another, Norma, following in 1889.  It was discovered when the girls were young that they were musically gifted and their parents encouraged their talents.  

As early as 1904, Norma is reported in the September 26th  Tri-City Star newspaper as performing for a Visiting Nurses’ Association afternoon tea.  Later, she  attended the Kenwood Institute and Chicago Musical College, both respected institutions.

Mr. Wiese was part of the Independent Baking Company in Davenport; a highly successful business that allowed him to indulge his desire to educate and inspire his adult children through more than just the traditional education system.  He also used travel to introduce them to new music and cultures.  In 1921 the entire family traveled to Switzerland, France, the British Isles, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Norway, and Denmark, an exhausting, exhilarating trip!  Norma’s passport application* lists the reason for the trip as study and visit.   

Oddly enough, the application also states that Norma did not have an existing birth certificate.  It appears that the doctor who delivered Norma in Davenport, Iowa on January 27, 1889 forgot to submit the record to the Scott County Clerk.  Norma’s father, plus another family member in New York, had to vouch for her birth location and citizenship.** 

Other trips followed.  In 1924, the family was welcomed home after a three month visit to Great Britain.  Another family outing was to the Isle of Pines off Cuba (now called the Isle of Youth).  The last record we found for overseas travel was a trip Norma took in 1953 on the Queen Mary.  While we did not find her itinerary, we do know she sailed home from the port of Cherbourg, France. 

When not traveling the world, Norma lived in Davenport with her parents.  Edna moved to New York City in the late 1920s and by 1928 married businessman Henry Mills.  Norma remained at home, caring for her aging parents and continuing to be very active in organizations such as the Music Students’ Club, Etude club, and the Tri-City Musical Association.  She was also the first president elected for the State Federation of Music Clubs.

Norma M. Wiese passed away on November 14, 1958, in the house on Brown Street in which she had lived alone since the deaths of her parents.  She had never married nor had children.  But her will revealed a wonderful surprise for cultural arts supporters in Davenport.  Besides bequests to family and friends, Norma left a large portion of her estate to the City of Davenport to be used for public, educational purposes with encouragement to support musical arts.  After probate, the amount was $300,000.

Norma Wiese wished the children of Davenport to learn about fine arts and music; something that had filled her own life with pleasure since childhood.  She also asked, if possible, to name the building “The Wiese Fine Arts Building” after her family and their recognition to the arts in Davenport.

Miss Wiese’s dream was realized fourteen years later when the City of Davenport worked with what was then known as the Davenport Art Gallery (now known as the Figge Art Museum) to build an addition onto the Municipal Art Gallery, which was located at 1737 12th Street.  The addition, which included an auditorium and space for children and adults  to learn about the arts, was dedicated on May 20, 1972.

Times have changed.  In 2005, the Figge Art Museum moved to a new location in downtown Davenport.  The Davenport Parks and Recreation office and the City of Davenport Community Services Division have been using the Wiese Fine Arts Building ever since.

But it appears Norma’s dream is about to be realized in a new way. 

The Putnam Museum and City of Davenport are working to sell the property to the Davenport Community School District.  The school district would like to turn the Wiese wing into an early education center.  It seems an idea Norma, and the Wiese family, would have supported.

(posted by Amy D.)   

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*Found in the AncestryLibrary databases available at all Davenport Library locations.

** We did check our local Scott County birth records, and no, Norma’s birth certificate does not appear to be on record.

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